Eli Lilly Discovers Next Generation Technology Trailblazers

Recently I had the opportunity to meet university students on their placement year at Eli Lilly UK.  In their first five weeks at Eli Lilly, the students had already put two Salesforce apps into production.  True Trailblazers!  I sat in on a lunch and learn where they took other young developers at Eli Lilly through a hands-on exercise of building an app on Force.com.

Eli Lilly Search for Salesforce Developers

Like many organizations in the UK, the Eli Lilly UK Affiliate has an official student program. Through university partnerships they offer placements for students to gain work experience as a formal part of their degree program.

It is no secret that demand for developers is high. For a company to attract top talent, they must find ways to set themselves apart from other potential employers. Lilly has found that investments in innovative student programs and the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology can increase interest among grads who otherwise might not have been aware of the opportunity to come work for them.

Last year, we were approached by Richard Grogut, IT Director for Emerging Technology at Eli Lilly. His team was planning a hackathon as a student outreach program specifically to fill Salesforce developer positions and was looking for support. The theme for the hackathon was digital healthcare and Lilly had set challenges that aligned to their social causes such as their efforts to end world hunger and the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Quickly, the contest became a collaboration between Lilly, Salesforce, and the broader Salesforce developer community. To raise awareness and interest, Lilly ran a university tour introducing the program. To prepare them to use Force.com, Salesforce developer evangelist, John Stevenson ran a Trailhead Live workshop just for the students. Finally during the contest in November 2015, MVPs and members of the Salesforce Developers team from around the world monitored questions on the success community, ensuring contestants could get answers to any questions.

Over the course of the hackathon 29 students participated from six universities. From this group, Lilly selected a number of candidates for final interviews. In the end, four students took positions with Lilly in their Cirrus development team, the team focused on Salesforce App Cloud with a primary focus on Force.com.

Trailhead for Developer Success


“Where I really had a deeper understanding was when I started my placement and I deep dived into Trailhead and learned all the stuff about Salesforce… I think everyone who wants to develop on Salesforce should do that.”

– Cirrus Team Member, Wilson Ching


The students have joined a growing team of Salesforce developers within Eli Lilly. I found it enlightening to speak to the students about how they have learned to work with Force.com since they’ve started. The hackathon was certainly a way to get a bit of exposure to a technology, but only since they began their placements have they really begun to feel like they are getting to know Salesforce.

Wilson Ching, one of the Cirrus team members told me, “Where I really had a deeper understanding was when I started my placement and I deep dived into Trailhead and learned all the stuff about Salesforce… I think everyone who wants to develop on Salesforce should do that.” Another, Ben Ewan, spoke of the work that always comes along with learning a new technology, “A powerful platform like Salesforce, there’s always going to be that learning curve.”

It should come as no surprise that Trailhead has been a key part of their onboarding in the Cirrus team. Most notably they talked about how much easier learning Salesforce has been compared to other Salesforce developers at Lilly that they’ve spoken to. Many of the more experienced developers talk about wishing they had Trailhead when they began. Maybe these new developers are not as experienced as their more senior colleagues, but they are certain they are further along with their learning now than their predecessors were at the same stage.

From University Students to IT Trailblazers


“This is our fifth week now. We’ve already created two apps in production now. Anyone across the company can use them…”

– Cirrus Team Member, Jules Gribble


Toward the end of our discussion, the Cirrus team told me about their apps. “This is our fifth week now,” shared another developer, Jules Gribble. “We’ve already created two apps in production now. Anyone across the company can use them.”

The first is for time-off tracking. In building this app, the team leveraged Force.com’s built in data security and sharing model. Jules Gribble, one of the developers mentioned that it took some time to really understand the use of the security and data configurations. But once they gained a good handle on using profiles and sharing, they were pleased to find how easily they could solve problems around data visibility.

The second app, called “Vote Up” was created as an internal crowdsourcing app which is used to capture ideas and input from business and IT partners. It was this app they used as the focus of their lunch and learn, walking the attendees through the app building blocks by creating a custom object, and wiring up a custom user interface using the Materialize frontend framework… all in less than an hour.


“A powerful platform like Salesforce, there’s always going to be that learning curve.”

– Cirrus Team Member, Ben Ewen


Richard and Matthew Bull, Architect and leader of the Lilly Accelerated Development Programme shared with me the recipe for the success of these developers. Most noteworthy is that for their first applications, they focused on app concepts where the minimum viable product would be relatively small and focused. As a result their new developers could get off the ground and gain confidence. For my part, I noticed they also selected apps with a strong match to Force.com’s strengths of model-driven development for employee enablement and engagement.

Students Become Teachers

I am always pleased to meet our developers. It is one of the best parts of my job. Meeting these young developers was inspirational. It is a real life example of how the work we do in the Developer Relations team comes to fruition. This project with Lilly started as a collaboration to reach students. Now these university students have come so far as to begin to teach others at Lilly, demonstrating both their initiative and drive. I really have to commend the effectiveness and forward thinking of the Eli Lilly IT development team and management in finding these students and turning them into Trailblazers.

Cirrus Team Members: Lay Durafe, Calum Bell, Wilson Ching, Jules Gribble, and Ben Ewen

Published
August 30, 2016
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Eli Lilly Discovers Next Generation Technology Trailblazers